The O'Connor family bible came into my possession after the death of my grandparents. I noticed within it, a few pages with lists of family birth, death and marriage information dating back to the mid 1800s that I'd never seen before. Not long after, I received a 1924 newspaper article celebrating my great grandparent's 50th wedding anniversary from a second cousin, with lots of family details that were new to me. I realized there was a lot I didn't know and, ironically, those that could help with any questions were no longer here to answer them. I will forever berate myself as to why I hadn't thought to I ask them when they were still alive.
In the spring of 1997, armed with this additional information, I hoped an answer to a seemingly unanswerable question might now be within reach. I was inspired to embark on a grand journey, to find the answer to my quest.
Where in Ireland did my O'Connor family come from?
I didn't have a clue as to a townland nor even a county. I really only knew the names of my great grandparents, and that one of my ancestors was born in Ireland. (I wasn't even sure which generation!) I thought the next step should be to try to find out who was buried in our O'Connor cemetery plot back where my grandparents came from in Vermont, hoping that might lead to a birth place in Ireland written on a tombstone or a burial record. If not, I thought at least it would help to locate their vital records once I determined exact dates.
While inquiring by phone long distance at the family cemetery, a very kind person going the extra mile at the rectory in Brattleboro, Vermont said:
"Wait, there's another plot of O'Connors".
To my great surprise as it turns out, she revealed the names of my previously unknown to me, great great grandparents. I never even knew they were buried there. If she hadn't bothered, I may never have known! No mention though, of a birthplace other than merely "Ireland" and alas, no indication either on the tombstones themselves.
So, my emigrant ancestors were Maurice O'Connor and his wife Catherine Martin, both born 1822 according to the gravemarker. It was they, I later came to find, out who made the trek across the Atlantic during the worst part of the so called Irish Potato Famine; 1847, aka Black '47, the year of the "coffin ships" into Quebec....or maybe I should say the starvation! Oh, but don't get me started on that one, that is for another time to tell.
Next step was to try to locate Maurice's death listing from the Brattleboro town clerk's office to obtain the month and day and maybe a birthplace, as I now had a year of death from the cemetery information. I was merely calling to find out how to go about getting a death certificate if you only had a year i.e. 1898, when the clerk asked me to wait while she checked. She had gone to a dusty shelf and pulled out the ledger for 1898! Would you believe it, she actually went through it month by month to finally find Maurice's death listed in October of that year, on the 20th evidence of yet another kindness that advanced my quest that much forward.
But wait, that wasn't all. As she went across the line of information she read aloud, and came to this:
Parents: Hugh and Johanna O'Connor
Wow! The names of my great great great grandparents. As I was only looking for dates, that was a pretty exciting, unexpected find in itself! Ah yet again, it only said "Ireland" as a birthplace. At least I now had an exact death date. Maybe I could find an obituary that might mention a townland.
By the end of 1997, I was getting rather depressed. I had already tried searching the Brattleboro church and cemetery records, tombstone markings, birth, death, marriage certificates, funeral parlor papers, Vermont Federal Census films, town directories, Vermont genealogy societies, U.S. naturalization papers, passenger lists, civil war veterans & Irish railroad worker references, and the local Family History Center (the Mormons). If I was lucky at all; they said merely "Ireland" as a birthplace. The naturalization papers I obtained from the National Archives in Waltham, Ma. had "Great Britain" even. But no townland mentioned, ever.
I had run out of ideas on how to find a townland in Ireland for my emigrant ancestors... after all this searching I still had no clue where my O'Connor family came from in Ireland. It was beginning to dawn on me that there was a possibility I might never find the answer to my quest.
It started to haunt me, "Would I ever know?" It was at this point that I remember thinking aloud to myself...
"Come on Maurice and Catherine, give me a hand here!"
It was only a few days later that I received an envelope in the mail from the Brooks Library, Brattleboro, Vt. I had all but forgotten having written, months earlier, requesting a search in their microfiche for an obituary in the local 1890s era newspaper. When I hadn't heard from them, I figured they didn't come up with anything. But now I had this envelope, I'll never forget, it was on Jan 3rd 1998...